Stepping Out

When 23-year-old Michal Gaon caught the No. 7 Egged Bus from Hadera to Givat Olga last November, a car bomb detonated nearby, causing severe burns and the loss of both legs.

Gaon is one of 1,890 Jews injured since the Al Aqsa Intifada began more than 13 months ago; another 191 have been killed in terrorist attacks in that period.

On Dec. 9, the Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund and One Family are staging a walk-a-thon in Los Angeles to aid the victims of terror in Israel. While the Los Angeles community has hosted many rallies that show support for people in Israel, this Sunday will be the first to raise funds to benefit the victims of terror.

“It is totally focused on the human element of directly connecting to these families [of victims]. Each walker holds in their hand a poster with a photograph of a victim, and that creates a bond and a purpose,” says Neil Thalheim, 43, founder of the Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund.

Thalheim, a businessman living in Great Neck, N.Y., started the fund in November 2000 in response to a terrorist attack that left 10 Israelis dead. The first event was an impromptu concert starring the Moshav Band which raised more than $30,000. Within days of the concert, Thalheim and his wife, Susan, boarded a plane to Israel to personally distribute the funds to 25 families affected by the attack.

“The fund came about because we felt a tremendous urge to help the terror victims in Israel, and we couldn’t find any other organization that was doing it,” Thalheim says. Recently, the Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund joined forces with One Family, an organization started by the Belzberg family in Jerusalem in response to the Sbarro bombing. The merged organization has many prominent names on its board, including Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, author Jonathan Kellerman and philanthropist and businessman Ronald Lauder.

The Los Angeles walk-a-thon is supported by more than 50 community organizations, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Organizers hope that more than 3,000 people will attend and that it will raise at least $250,000.

“Many people here in Los Angeles have loved ones who were hurt, or worse,” says Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “The walk-a-thon is an apolitical event that enables people to find proactive and positive ways to fight the scourge of terrorism.”

Some 90 percent of the funds will be sent directly to the victims and their families, the rest toward administrative costs, Thalheim says. To ensure fair distribution, an oversight team of psychologists and social workers assess each family’s need and allocate funds accordingly. The organization also gives free legal and medical advice to the victims and provides emotional support through a team of volunteer social workers.

“We literally have a staff in place in Israel, that immediately upon the death of a terror victim, visits that home — typically in a matter of hours or days — visits the family, and assesses their needs. Then we make follow-up visits to these families, providing support and assistance to their financial needs,” Thalheim says.

Marc Belzberg, founder of One Family, adds, “We are in this just to do good and help people. Neither Neil nor myself are drawing salaries. None of us are in it for the ego; none of us are in it for glorification.”

The walk-a-thon will take place Dec. 9 at 9 a.m., and
will begin at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, at the corner of Pico Boulevard and
Roxbury Drive. To register, call (310) 772-8170, or log on to .